Gruesome video footage and photographs of the battered bodies of 12-year-old Jodi Marie Ragsdale and 15-year-old Sheila Carter were shown to jurors in the murder trial of Robert "Bobby" Daniel Thompson on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, defense attorneys peppered a witness with questions about Greg Myers -- a man Thompson's attorneys have argued is responsible for the girls' deaths.
Those were some of the elements that emerged during the first day of Thompson's trial. Thompson, a 42-year-old reputed member of the Hell's Angels, is accused of bludgeoning Ragsdale and Carter to death with a car jack. The victims' bodies were discovered along the shoulder of Campodonica Road near Alves Road in rural Merced County on Dec. 13, 1986.
Thompson was arrested on Aug. 18, 2006, after blood on a car jack, which was discovered in a white Mercury Comet that allegedly belonged to Thompson, was found to have Carter's DNA, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Dave Moranda.
Defense attorney Randy Thomas chose to reserve his opening statements in Thompson's defense for a later date. Thompson has pleaded not guilty to the two first-degree murder charges he is facing.
The crime scene footage was shown during Moranda's opening arguments in the case. The footage showed both girls clothed with their heads bloodied and bashed. Merced County Sheriff's Detective Joseph Cardenas, the deputy who was the first to arrive at the homicide scene after the department received a call about the bodies at 9:31 a.m., testified that the victims' wounds were so brutal that he "could basically look into the skull of each of the kids."
"[The crime scene footage] shows a rage that somebody must have to kill these girls like they did," Moranda said.
Much of the testimony presented Tuesday dealt with the whereabouts of Carter and Ragsdale during the early morning hours of Dec. 13, before the discovery of their bodies. Prior to their deaths, the girls were babysitting for a woman at an Atwater apartment on Vine Street, Moranda said during opening arguments.
After the woman returned back home, the victims, along with Carter's older sister Angie, took the woman's car for a joy ride after midnight. With Sheila Carter behind the wheel of the car, the three girls eventually drove to Bellevue Bowl in Atwater. Moranda said the girls saw Thompson in a red Chevy Malibu -- a car that belonged to Thompson's best friend at the time. Moranda said Thompson talked with the girls for a few minutes, according to statements from Carter's sister.
Moranda said the three girls then returned back to the Vine Street residence. Carter's sister saw the victims watching television before she went to sleep -- the last time she would see the two girls alive.
The girls were later seen at a 7-Eleven minimart on Winton Way around 4 a.m. by a clerk named Jas Chima, Moranda said. At the store with Chima was Greg Myers, who was "hanging out" at the store, according to Moranda. Myers was said to be Carter's ex-boyfriend. According to witness testimony, Moranda said Myers walked Carter out of the store after she had bought cigarettes. "Greg Myers saw Jodi in the car, and saw a male adult driving the car," Moranda said, adding that Myers did not get a "good look" at the driver.
According to earlier testimony from Becky Tilton, Thompson's girlfriend at the time, Thompson crawled through the bedroom of the mobile home where they were staying the day the bodies were found. Moranda said Thompson then showered, and Tilton later noticed blood in the shower and the tub, which she cleaned up. Moranda said Tilton also saw blood in the bedroom.
Moranda said Thompson also admitted committing the crime to a 26-year-old woman he was convicted of abducting from a convenience store at knife-point 10 days after Ragsdale's and Carter's deaths. During the abduction, Thompson allegedly told the woman that "he said he wouldn't be scared to kill her, because he had already put away two girls," Moranda said. Thompson was eventually arrested and sentenced to 14 years in prison for the kidnapping in 1987. He served seven years in prison for the crime, according to a 2006 Modesto Bee article.
Moranda said although the car jack that was found inside Thompson's white Mercury Comet did not fit the jack's base that was also found in the car, it was a perfect match for the car jack base for the Chevy Malibu that investigators believe Thompson was driving the morning when the victims were killed. "Somebody had made a switch -- taken the murder weapon from the Malibu and put it into the Comet,"
Thomas refused to comment on any of the prosecution's claims or evidence that was raised during Tuesday's proceedings. "I can't comment," Thomas said. "My client is innocent until proven guilty."
The prosecution also called Chima, the 7-Eleven clerk who reported seeing Ragsdale hours before her death, to the stand Tuesday. Chima testified that Myers, who was a friend of his known as "Chino," would hang out at the convenience store where he worked. Chima said Myers had escorted Carter back to her car. Under cross-examination, however, Thomas asked Chima about statements he allegedly told the defense during interviews.
Thomas asked Chima if he remembered telling a defense investigator that Myers did not return back to the store -- but went with Ragsdale and Carter instead. "I don't know," Chima said, to which Thomas responded, "Why did you tell police something that didn't happen?" Chima later said on the stand that he had dropped Myers off, although he also stated under cross-examination that Myers might have walked home -- statements which Thomas questioned. "Either he walked home with you, you took Greg home, or he left with one of the girls. What is it?" Thomas asked.
When asked by Moranda if he had a better recollection of those events 21 year ago than he does today, Chima replied "yes," saying that it "was a long time ago."
In July 2007, during Thompson's preliminary hearing, Thomas argued that Myers was the real murderer in the case. Myers has denied any involvement in the girls' deaths -- although he was recently arrested for threatening a witness in Thompson's case.
During Tuesday's proceeding the jury also heard from Hector Garibay, a retired Merced County sheriff's detective who worked on the case. Under cross-examination, Garibay told Thomas that a 7-Eleven cup, a beer can and a pair of shoes found near the crime scene weren't checked for fingerprints by investigators.
If convicted, Thompson faces life behind bars without parole.
Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at 209 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.